Penalties & Blown Engines Disrupt Championship Contenders at Watkins Glen

Kyle Larson

Getty Kyle Larson's No. 5 failed inspection two times.

The NASCAR Cup Series drivers take on Watkins Glen International on August 21. Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, and Christopher Bell will all have to overcome setbacks after an eventful Saturday at the New York road course.

Bell dealt with the more serious issue early. He had to come to a full stop during practice as smoke billowed out of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. He later revealed that he had blown an engine. Bell’s team had to switch out the engine on the stock car, which meant that he could not take part in qualifying.

Busch also dealt with an engine issue at Watkins Glen International. Though it did not surface until after qualifying came to an end. The team pulled the No. 18 back to the garage and went under the hood. Dustin Long of NBC Sports later confirmed that there would be an engine change that would send Busch to the rear of the field.

Larson, for comparison, had a minor issue compared to a blown engine. The No. 5 Henrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro failed pre-race inspection twice, which meant that the defending Watkins Glen winner lost his pit stall selection. NASCAR officials also ejected car chief Jesse Saunders.

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Larson Was Able To Make His Qualifying Laps

Kyle Larson

GettyKyle Larson completed his qualifying laps at Watkins Glen International.

The No. 5 failed inspection twice, which meant that Larson would be at a disadvantage during his pit stops. However, he avoided a larger issue as the No. 5 Chevrolet passed inspection on the third attempt. This meant that Larson could still qualify and that he wouldn’t have to serve a pass-through penalty at the start of the race.

Larson capitalized on his opportunity. He posted the second-fastest time during Group A qualifying, which secured his spot in the final round. He then went out and posted the second-fastest time once again, which secured his spot on the front row next to teammate Chase Elliott.

These two Hendrick Motorsports drivers were the ones that battled for the win during the 2021 race. Elliott entered the weekend as the two-time defending winner, but he ultimately finished second behind Larson despite having the faster car on the final run to the checkered flag. He just couldn’t fully erase a 10-plus second deficit.

Bell Faces a Rebound Opportunity at Watkins Glen International

Christopher Bell

GettyChristopher Bell will start from the rear at Watkins Glen International.

Bell’s weekend at Watkins Glen International provides a rebound opportunity for him and the No. 20 team. He finished seventh in what was a career season, but he was not able to contend for the win due to contact from Larson sending him spinning.

Starting from the rear will put Bell at a disadvantage, especially with the Toyota drivers all struggling to contend for wins at road courses in the Next Gen era. Busch posted the best qualifying lap, which was good enough for 10th, but he will join the rest of the Toyota drivers well back from the front of the field after his engine change.

Bell only has one Cup Series race at Watkins Glen on his resume. He made his debut at the track during the 2021 trip. The Cup Series did not compete at the road course during the 2020 season due to COVID-19 forcing some schedule changes.

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